Massage guns: your new best friend or passing fad?
Massage guns are becoming increasingly popular and one of the latest trends in the health and fitness space. The purpose of the blog is to review the use of these devices and effectiveness compared with more traditional methods for myofascial release.
Myofascial release refers to techniques which aim to manipulate the soft tissues of the body, such as the muscles, tendons and fascia. This can be in the form of direct myofascial release where a therapist applies a few kilograms of force in an attempt to free up the restricted tissues and increase blood flow to the area. Alternately, self-myofascial release is commonly used, where an object is placed under an individual's body weight to achieve a similar effect. Objects may vary from foam rollers to tennis balls, and controlling the body weight with respect to gravity to roll along the length of specific muscle groups. More recently, a variety of tools have been developed to improve self-myofascial release. One example of this is hand-held percussion massage guns.
Massage guns utilise percussions or vibration therapy to provide quick bursts of pressure into the soft tissues of the body, with aims of relieving muscle tension, reducing pain and promoting relaxation. Whilst traditionally performed by therapists, massage guns can offer a much more convenient option of administrating this type of treatment to yourself, without the need of formal training to perform, and in the comfort of your own home. However, important questions to ask are whether these massage gun devices are effective, and to consider the risks involved.
Effectiveness: what the research says
Lower limb range of motion
- Studies support the use of percussion devices to acutely increase range of motion in the lower limbs.
- Similar effect for the upper limbs is yet to be proven.
Muscle activation and force output
- Currently research does not support hand-held percussion devices to increase muscle activation during warm-up for physical activities
- On the other hand, research supports the use of vibrating foam rollers as one of the best methods of increase muscular activation through self-myofascial release
Reducing delayed onset of muscle soreness
- While the research is not too clear, in general it supports the use of percussive massage devices as an effective way of relieving delayed onset of muscle soreness for the whole body.
Contraindications: when it may not be safe to use a massage gun
If you have bleeding disorders or bruise easily.
If you are pregnant or have a high risk of pregnancy.
If you had a recent surgery (massage can move blood clots).
If you have nerve disorders, MS, epilepsy or other nervous system disorders.
If you have skin disorders or you have open sores or if your skin is easily torn.
Currently, there is very limited research in this area. The research that is currently available, does support the use of hand-held percussion massage guns in improving range of motion in the lower limbs, and assisting to relieve delayed onset of muscle soreness following physical activity. But there are cheaper devices and tools, that may provided a similar result. The level of effectiveness of massage funs compared with treatment from a therapist is also something to question. Lastly, due to the independent use of these devices, attention must be placed on the safety. If unsure, consult your health professional or GP first.
Martin, J. (2021). A critical evaluation of percussion massage gun devices as a rehabilitation tool focusing on lower limb mobility: A literature review.